Empowering student-centered learning in new ways
Never have my two worlds collided in such a big way. I have worked in education research for the last 20 years and spent the last several curating the Students at the Center resource database part-time. The rest of my hours are spent raising two delightful AND infuriating elementary-age children. Now with schools closed due to covid-19, I find myself in the middle trying to be their teacher. I am digging through my art supplies to find magnets to build a compass and struggling to log into that app my friend suggested while my husband and I work from home.
There’s so much available online to help educators, families, and students optimize their learning amid so many unknowns, but information overload isn’t helping any of us bring our stress levels down. I hit my information overload point last night while reading my 100th article, which just happened to be about avoiding information overload during online collaborations!
So, I am advocating we collectively take a big breath in and step back to consider the big picture of what we want and need to get out of this potentially lengthy period of school closures. My professional self and my parent-self tell me the same thing.
We need to make this experience as student-centered as we can so that we empower our learners to:
- let their curiosity and passions lead their learning
- be creative and make things
- connect home learning to the outside world
- raise their voice
- build and maintain relationships
- direct their own learning
To help us all over the coming weeks, I’ve organized some of the resources through this student-centered lens and offered some thoughts for educators from a parent stuck at home. If you’re in the mood to dive in, read on! If you need to figure out why someone is crying about the wrong pipe cleaners, come visit our resources when you can.
At the end of the day, our goal should be to keep our kids engaged and excited about learning, supported by their peers and their families, connected with their communities and the wider world so they, and we, come out of this experience strengthened rather than depleted.
It will take a lot of coffee and creativity and some attention to our own self-care, but parents and teachers will make great strides if we focus on the tenets of student-centered learning. Now, if I could only find those magnets rolling around in the bottom of my art bin. 🙂
Setting the Stage:
Some set-up is needed for meaningful distance learning to occur. Families will need support in order to be partners in their children’s learning and educators will need to provide both structure and flexibility for families who are juggling many priorities.
- Transitioning to Online Learning: Pro Tips on What You Need to Know
An expert in online learning shares best practices with attention to selecting a platform, establishing guidelines for students and addressing technical issues.
- How to Support Home Learning in the Elementary Grades
An elementary teacher shares how he is setting up routines for his students and communicating with parents, but the advice is applicable for upper grades too.
- What Teachers in China Have Learned in the Past Month
A teacher shares tips for running classes and working with parents. Her advice on using asynchronous learning and ideas for decreasing screen time are particularly helpful.
- Your Guide to Internet Service During New Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak
This article provides a summary of the free or low-cost internet service options that are available for families.
Planning with a Student-Centered Lens:
Supporting student choice
In the absence of the structure of a typical school day, learners need to be engaged and excited about the learning they are doing at home. Being at home without school bells allows a unique opportunity to follow up on topics of interest and take an inquisitive mind down some meandering paths.
- New Modes of Learning
The Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests ways for parents and teachers to use this time to explore topics they love and engage in learning experiences that could not have occurred in a traditional school setting.
- 5 Ways to Activate Students’ Passion During a School Closure
An instructional coach offers excellent suggestions to encourage student-centered exploration.
Fostering creativity and production
Schools across the country have been embracing the maker-space movement, fostering problem-solving and creative thinking. Projects teachers can guide remotely could range from building a bridge from toothpicks to creating a new recipe or writing a song.
- At Home with MakerSpaces
This short article outlines simple materials needed to make a home makerspace and a good article to share with parents.
- 7 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Kids
This article offers advice for parents on how to let your kids express their creativity. It would be a good article to share.
Making real-world connections
It may seem hard to connect to the real world when students are stuck inside but this can be done in different ways. Virtual field trips and sites, featuring live streaming, such as zoos or a weather station can be tied to the curriculum.
- School Closures? Using PBL in Remote Learning
This article offers advice on implementing project-based learning online and includes links to lots of additional resources.
- Virtual Field Trip Apps and Websites List
A comprehensive list of museums offering virtual tours and other ways to interact with scientific and cultural institutions around the country.
- Ten Ways to Use Google Earth in Your Classroom
This article offers many ideas for using Goggle Earth creatively. Many of which could be adapted as projects to be completed at home.
Raising student voice
Feeling heard will be particularly important for our learners when so many things in the world feel out of one’s control. Finding authentic ways for students to share their work may feel like more of a challenge than usual, but there are some creative options.
- Why Podcasting is Trending Since Serial and Why Your Class Should Be Doing It
This article outlines how and why to use podcasts in the classroom.
- KQED Learn
This free tool allows students across the country to connect and discuss current topics and share video and written commentaries.
Building strong relationships is critical for students who may be feeling isolated. There are many ideas for using technology to connect kids with each other. Keeping equitable access in our sites, educators can also suggest ideas to stay connected over the phone for learners who have less access to technology.
- Prioritizing Human Connection When Social Distancing is the Norm
This article offers ideas for fostering communication between different groups including teachers and learners, groups of students, and between teaching colleagues.
- Teacher Interrupted: Leaning into Social Emotional Learning Amid the COVID-19 Crisis
This article provides a reminder for teachers to draw on the SEL skills they have built to care for themselves and nurture students and their families.
- Helping Children Cope with Coronavirus and Uncertainty
A senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education shares ideas about how adults can talk to children about the virus.
Empowering students and parents
Students who feel like they are driving their own learning will stay engaged. For educators, this can be an opportunity to pull them into the learning process and build partnerships between students and their parents that will carry into future years.
- 3 Ways Online Reflection Promotes Learner Agency in an Age of Urgency
Teachers at the Global Online Academy use reflection to promote a sense of ownership over learning.
- Critical Conversations
This resource helps kids practice thinking about global challenges and their role in reducing harm, helping others and learning across differences.
- 4 Tips for Teachers Shifting to Teaching Online
This article offers advice for working with students who were often absent before school closures. The advice about helping students drive their own learning is especially helpful.
Using Technology to Implement Distance Learning:
If educators first take the time to consider the type of student-centered learning experiences we want for our students, then we can choose the technology that will support our goals and help parents achieve them.
- Commonsense Media How to Find Great Learning Resources for Your Students During School Closures
This resource categorizes apps, websites, and other ed-tech tools by their purpose. It includes a section on getting ready to start virtual learning, communicating with parents, collaborating, using video, and student-led and interest-based research.
- Learning Keeps Going
A coalition of education organizations has curated strategies, tips and best practices for teaching online during the coronavirus pandemic. The site includes a resource database.
- The Distance Learning Resource Center
This is a list of virtual learning resources that are learner-centered. Resources are divided into learning resources and resources for parents, teachers and communities.
Amanda Dorris currently curates the Students at the Center resource database. She has served in education research and development for 20 years on projects ranging from working with middle schools to build college knowledge for immigrant families to high school curriculum for law and justice-themed academies. She holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A from Wellesley College. At home she is building with her Lego obsessed 8-year-old, drawing fairies with her 6-year-old or reading late into the night.